County school board votes on new facilities plan
by Cris Ritchie
HAZARD – The Perry County Board of Education approved a revised district facilities plan on Friday that could result in the simultaneous construction of two new elementary schools.
With the construction of East Perry Elementary nearly complete, the school board is beginning to address the needs of other facilities in the district. Their latest effort, a slight revision of a plan approved by the district’s local planning committee earlier this year, calls for the construction of a new elementary school for the Chavies community, and also the consolidation of Willard, Big Creek, and A.B. Combs schools into a second all new facility.
There was some question at last month’s school board meeting about which project should take priority, with the board voting to table the issue and devise its own plan. During a special called meeting on Friday, the board unanimously voted to send that plan to the state board of education for approval. If approved, a public hearing on the plan will be held Thursday, April 25.
Though the district currently has approximately $22 million in bonding potential, District Finance Officer Jody Maggard said in March that completing both projects at the same time is not a likely scenario from a financial standpoint. He noted on Friday, however, that there are options for the board in the event suitable land is acquired and everything meets with state approval, including phasing the project where not all of the cost is borne up front.
The plan approved on Friday presents some tough challenges for school officials, Maggard noted, including costs for land acquisitions and site development, which are both currently unknown at this point. He stressed the projects are still very early in the planning stages, but if completed as currently conceived, they would replace four of the district’s facilities that need it most.
“Because of the condition and age of the buildings, they’re not what we want our students to be in,” he said. “So, if it takes meeting some challenges, it’s something we’re willing to do to take four of our old schools and come up with two brand new schools.”
There was intially some concern that consolidation of the Willard, Big Creek, and A.B. Combs schools could draw students away from Chavies were consolidation to take place first. In that event, enrollment at Chavies could drop so much that the state approving a new school there would become unlikely, said Board Chairman John C. Combs.
“If in the next few years [student enrollment at Chavies] goes below 300,” Combs said, “there ain’t going to be no school. If you had $20 million you won’t get a new school.”
By constructing a new school at Chavies earlier, officials could not only circumvent that potential problem, but possibly draw students back from the Lost Creek community who are currently attending school in Breathitt County, noted board member Jerry Stacy. Additionally, there is already a good possibility that suitable land for Chavies could be acquired at the nearby Coalfields Industrial Park.
Deciding to consolidate the three schools, all located within the district represented by board member Debbie McIntosh, wasn’t an easy decision, McIntosh said, but it became a decision that seemed to be the most fair to the largest number of people.
“We will try our best to be as centrally and neutrally located at possible, so it’s not Willard, it’s not Big Creek, it’s not A.B. Combs,” McIntosh said. “Everybody starts off fresh in a new environment.”
“This will send every child in Deb’s district to a new school,” Jerry Stacy added.
McIntosh said officials have already looked at four different options for land, including a tract just off the Hal Rogers Parkway near Coal Harbor, though nothing has been decided.
The board’s final plan must be submitted to the state by May.
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